The Interview - 'We built a house for our pupils'

29th May 2009 at 01:00

Pam Jones heads Ifield School in Gravesend, Kent - a special school catering for 174 pupils from reception to Year 13

What led you to become a teacher?

I grew up in Wales, where the teaching profession is respected and held in high regard, which I'm sure influenced my decision. My father tried to encourage me to become a professional showjumper and the school careers adviser suggested the Forces, as I had been involved in team sports. My first teaching post was at St Hilary's, an independent girls' school in Sevenoaks.

When did you become a head?

I was assistant head at Rowhill Special School when the head there encouraged me to apply for the headteacher post at Ifield. I was delighted and astonished to be appointed in 2004, especially as it was my first application.

What's the best thing about your job?

Each and every day is different. It's satisfying to see pupils developing, learning, having fun and working with staff. And it's a great privilege to support new teachers in their career development. I also enjoy working with other headteachers and professionals in Kent.

What do you look for when recruiting new teachers?

Enthusiasm, a willingness to learn and a genuine commitment to deliver the best education.

What is your school's unique selling point?

The school has a long tradition of excellence in providing the best education for pupils with special needs, both within the school and for pupils in the 38 Gravesham schools. We have a co-located nursery at Kings Farm Primary School and a unique post-16 unit as part of our brand new buildings at North West Kent College.

Who attends your school?

The school was re-designated in 2004 from being a special school for moderate learning difficulties to one for profound, severe and complex learning difficulties and communication and interaction difficulties. About 66 per cent of our pupils have autism.

What changes have you made at the school?

The re-designation required considerable investment in staff development and the curriculum required a complete redesign. We group our pupils by stage and not age to ensure that the curriculum and resources match their learning styles and needs. We've been fortunate to receive significant investment in specialist ICT as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. The school buildings and grounds have been completely rebuilt, including a sensory room and hydro pool. All key stage 1 classes have individual outdoor classrooms as well as a primary playground. Key stages 2, 3 and 4 have access to an outdoor sensory garden, raised beds and vegetable gardens. We've also built a four-bedroom house to deliver real life skills in.

Have they made a difference?

The impact of staff development has had a considerable impact on classroom practice. Staff confidence has grown and pupils have made greater progress. Ofsted judged our curriculum outstanding in June last year and the integrated approach has seen increased collaboration between staff and pupils. The new buildings have greatly enhanced the learning environment, the wide corridors have improved access and pupils' behaviour has improved dramatically. Pupils and parents are proud of our new school. I believe it is important that parents feel their child is in an environment that is of the highest calibre. Many parents are coming to terms with their child's diagnosis and to have a building that is inadequate is just not acceptable.

What is your mission?

To improve the life chances of all our pupils, giving them experiences and opportunities that other children take for granted. There has been enormous improvement in provision for special needs pupils in the UK over the past 30 years, but I believe there is still much more work to do to increase the awareness of disability and real inclusion in our society. I do have concerns for our students when they leave Ifield and want to continue to support them and their families to have a range of suitable choices post-19.

Are you worried about the young?

No. I believe that our young people have opportunities for growing and developing in our schools. I'm optimistic that the integrated partnerships between education, health, police and social services will support the most vulnerable children.

What's the biggest issue in education and how would you tackle it?

We need to rationalise the range of initiatives that are constantly sent to schools and allow schools to embed just a few. I'm not sure whether there is sufficient accountability and analysis of the real impact of many initiatives, or that they are linked to improving outcomes for children.

Would you encourage your family and friends to go into teaching?

Absolutely. I think teaching is the best profession. I have never had a day when I regretted my decision. My daughter has just completed her NQT year.

How would you like to be remembered?

As having given my best and encouraged others to do the same


2004-present: Ifield School, Gravesend, Kent, headteacher

2001-2003: Rowhill School, assistant headteacher

1992-2001: Rowhill School, Kent

1986-1992: Wrotham Secondary School, Kent, variety of roles

1981-1986: Career break

1976-1981: St Hilary's, Head of PE

1975-1976: St Hilary's, Sevenoaks, PE teacher.

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